Congress Moves Fast in Judge Samuel Kent Impeachment Proceedings
Cognitive Dissonance, Thomas More, and Jurisprudence

Cognitive Dissodance: If Abortion is Murder, What's the Problem?

If abortion is murder, what is wrong with killing an abortion doctor?  Oh, it's illegal to kill an abortion doctor!

If it were World War II, and some Nazis - pursuant to law - came looking for some Jews, would you just hand them over?  Would that be moral?  That law, after all, is the law.

What if you killed the Nazis.  That would be illegal.  Would it be immoral?   

What about the Fugitive Slave Act.  Would you have returned slaves?  The law, after all, is the law.

These are very hard issues to deal with.  A lot of philosophers have spent a lot of time thinking about these issues.

Nevertheless, people who proclaim that abortion is murder want to act like killing an abortion doctor is wrong.  End of discussion.  As if the philosophical answer is so easy to come by.

Why is the "right" answer so obvious to everyone but a dense few like me?  The answer comes from psychology.  It's cognitive dissonance.  

Cognitive dissonance occurs when a person has two mutually inconsistent beliefs about an issue.  People become very uncomfortable - literally - when ideas collide.  We like certainty.  So we'll get it, gosh darn it.

We will make rationalizations.  We will accept weak arguments.  We will pretend that some issues are so beyond the pale, that they are unworthy of discussion.  Mike is nuts!  How can he even suggest that killing an abortion doctor might be moral?!

Let's apply it to the abortion example.  Let's assume for this discussion only that: Abortion is murder.

If abortion is murder, why is killing an abortion doctor immoral?  You might say: It's against the law.  We have laws.  We need laws.  Fine.  That's a typical Jurisprudence 101 newbie answer.

I would then say: Imagine I went onto a school bus full of children.  I started shooting each child in the head.  Would you stop me - using deadly force if needed - from killing every child on the bus?

Your answer: Yes, duh!

What if 5 judges said I could legally shoot the children.  What then would you do?

You would say, "A judge would never do that!"

I would then remind you that 5 judges have indeed allowed that.  After all, you say that abortion is murder.  Five judges have said that abortion is legal.  What would you do?

You would start sweating.  Saying that killing an abortion doctor is moral, is too extreme for polite discussion.  It's beyond politically incorrect.  You gotta weasel your way out of this discussion!

You will thus accept really weak arguments.  You would ignore the Jew and slave hypothetical.  You would dismissively say, "That's different!"  Or you would say, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."  Isn't it amazing when that phrase is used?  It's used only when the person holds two inconsistent views, and needs to reconcile them into One Theory of Everything. 

You would do everything than attempt to logically reconcile your views.

Thus, we can see how cognitive dissonance drives policy debates.  We form our beliefs based on psychological comfort rather than intellectual rigor.